Why Millennials constantly change Jobs

According to Gallup* less than 30% of millennials in the US are engaged in their job which makes them the least engaged working age group. Not surprisingly, according to the same study, 60% of millennials would be open for a new job opportunity. Why is that?

Engagement

Staff engagement has been a core focus of HR strategies for decades, still engagement levels are shockingly low and not really rising. Following Gallup’s regular publications on engagement you will see that the most engaged age group are the ‘traditionalists’ with 45%. The level of engagement seems to negatively correlate with age as it falls through the younger generations to 29% for millennials.

Without any doubt I would argue that the majority of companies are run by traditionalists – same as their respective HR departments – and hence often focus on engagement, leadership, reward and development strategies tailored to traditionalists.

Millennials vs Traditionalists

Many studies have proved over the years that millennials value very different facets of their job and employer than older generations, thus there is a clear miss-match of expectations which is reflected in the engagement levels. In my opinion it is clear traditionalists focus more on:

  • Career, promotions and level in hierarchy
  • Reward in terms of compensation and benefits
  • Strategic alignment with management and firm
  • Strong working relationship with manager

They are prepared to work extremely hard and in some cases prioritise professional endeavours over personal life to achieve a prosperous career. Reward in terms of compensation and hierarchical advancement appear to be highly valued, paired with strategic alignment with their employer and a close working relationship with their manager.

Millennials are fundamentally different, they are driven by purpose. The things that they see value personally are ideally matched with that of their employer. To use a very cliché example, if they feel strongly about the environment they want to see their employer aligning their values towards that too. To sum it up, they focus more on:

  • Flexible working or work life balance, meaning to work as and when it is logical for them, not following a strict pattern
  • Purpose of their job and their employer
  • Strong and constant flow of communication in which they want to participate
  • Constant development on a personal and professional level

They are equally prepared to work very hard to achieve what they want to achieve but are unlikely to make significant sacrifices to their personal life or values. Their request for flexible work is often mistakenly seen as them wanting to work less but the reality could be that they just want to work when it makes more sense. Traditionalists are very used to ‘presence culture’ if you’re not there you’re not working and would often form positive opinions about staff because they are in early and work late. Millennials are used to output culture focusing on the results they deliver rather than when and where they work. So arriving at work at 8am then leaving at 3pm to meet their kids to spend time with them, then working virtually from 8pm for another 2-3 hours is significantly more appealing and logical for them – but more nightmarish for a traditionalist manager.

Career development designed by and for traditionalist

According to Gallup 93% of millennials left their employer to gain a new role, development and coaching being fundamental for them. They constantly want to feel ‘developed’ and ‘progressed’. Very often the standard career model focusses on a promotion cycle of 2-4 years in logical step by step approaches. However, this timeframe feels like an entire lifetime for the younger generation and to change employers every couple of years seems to have become a norm. They often feel that it is more waiting for the next step than being actively developed into the next role and that time served is equally as important as output – an alien thought to them.

Furthermore, the entire reward model is built around compensation, mainly cash-equivalent benefits and promotions in logical hierarchy lines. Millennials are more than happy to work without a job title and are  more focussed on the purpose of their role such as what is my impact on the product, what is my impact – if we stay with our cliché example – on the environment through my employer. They don’t have to be part of top management to be happy but they certainly want to feel involved by executives and expect consistent and easy commutation with the same. They don’t often think in hierarchies and don’t like them which leads to the fact that a career does not have to be upward, it can equally be rewarding to move sideward.

You can see very clearly that most career, development and reward models do not efficiently address the needs and requirements of millennials. This in turn explains their appallingly low engagement levels, which in turn leads to – according to Gallup – a three times higher staff turnover amongst millennials compared to other age groups costing the US economy alone over $30bn a year.

So now we know why they constantly change jobs – what do we do about it?

We all have to completely rethink how we work, where we work, how we measure performance, how we reward and how we communicate. Here are some points to consider:

  • Implement truly flexible working! Don’t be afraid of it, embrace it! Thanks to modern technology flexible working is technically not an issue. Why not turn it on its head and enforce a simple rule: ‘If you didn’t tell us otherwise, we consider you working regardless of where you are’. Work on the traditionalist manager who struggles with this, not on the millennial – they will be around longer.
  • Change from a presence culture to a results/ performance culture and use technology to measure the output and give staff access to their own performance data and comparison to the average. There is lots of talk about gamification, which could be used perfectly in this area.
  • Implement clever reward systems which are more than just cash or cash-equivalent, such as prizes, awards, public announcements, mentioning on social intranets etc. Learn to acknowledge success – celebrate with your staff if things go well.
  • Re-think career and development. The only criteria should be direct and indirect contribution. Enable high performers to get promoted very quickly and set up challenging development trainings and coaching to make them feel you are pushing them in their career.
  • Communicate – Millennials are used to constant multi-streams of communications and the ability to communicate with everyone without boundaries. This has to be the standard at work. Invest in a social intranet, make your executives accessible, involve all levels of staff in decision making and communicate as much and as often as you can.
  • Find purpose! CSR has been on the agenda for more than a decade, it is time to take it serious. Not only because each business also carries a social responsibility but the more serious you take it the more you will be successful in the employment and consumer market. Ensure that each employee can be part of this purpose, however great or small their contribution can be.
  • Make their purpose and impact visible! Ensure that each member of staff can see where their work is impacting the end product and how they are involved in discussion, communication and decision making. Also ensure they can clearly see their impact on your companies CSR agenda. This is also great for engagement.

As you can see a significant cultural change is required in our business. This is actually nothing new. All these have been discussed in thousands of speeches, millions of written papers and hundreds of books for more than a decade. It is time to start, if you haven’t you are very very late and millennials are not patient.

Who are Millennials

Well there is no perfect definition of millennials. Simplified one could say, the cohort of the population which came of age around the turn of the millennium. This would mean people born in the 1980s and 1990s. You can find quite a good discussion around the definition of millennials on Wikipedia.

References

  • Gallup: “How Millennials want to Work and Live” 2016